(Earthjustice attorney Erika Rosenthal is attending the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Durban, South Africa. This is the first in a series of blogs she will be filing from the conference.)
“We will succeed together, or we will fail together.”
– Sprent Dabwido, President of Nauru, Chair of the Pacific Small Island Developing States
The climate change negotiations here in Durban shifted gear today with the beginning of the “high-level segment” of the talks. One after another, the presidents of the most vulnerable countries—small island states threatened by rising seas, and African nations prone to drought and famine—pleaded for the world community to take collective action to reduce GHG emissions before it’s too late.
Ethiopia, Gabon, Nauru, Senegal, Samoa, Gambia, Kiribati, Grenada … These countries have contributed virtually nothing to climate change, but their people, through a combination of geography and poverty and politics, are suffering the consequences first and most severely. Their future is at the mercy of the governments of the US, China and other big emitters. They remind us that they are the canaries in the coal mine—the developed world must act now, ambitiously and with urgency, not just to save them but if we are to save ourselves.
Their plea is supported by a raft of scientific reports released in the last 10 days and driven home by our first-hand experience in the U.S. The World Meteorological Organization (the UN weather office) confirmed global warming is heading for a threshold that could cause irreversible changes, noting that Arctic sea ice shrunk to record low volumes this year and that the 13 hottest years on record have happened in the last 15 years.
And the International Energy Agency reported that if new and more ambitious global action isn’t agreed upon well before the end of the decade, we will have closed the door on stabilizing global temperatures at below 2°C above pre-industrial levels.
The IPCC warned us that a warmer world will bring more erratic extreme weather—and greenhouse gases from human activities are in large part to blame. The report found that climate change is indeed responsible for the increased frequency of pronounced heat waves, heavy rainfall events and other erratic and destructive weather events. All of which are going to cost us.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported that this year in the U.S. we experienced more severe storms, record-breaking temperatures, droughts and flooding, recording 10 disasters through August 2011. Each caused more than a billion dollars worth of damage.
I’ve been here In Durban at the U.N. climate negotiations for more than a week, working with NGO colleagues and scientists from around the world on some basics of the future climate regimes—helping/cajoling/pushing/prodding negotiators to strengthen requirements for transparency and public participation, and procedures for measuring, reporting and verifying GHG emissions reductions to help ensure we can measure our collective progress, call out laggards and ensure the environmental integrity of the future climate regime. More on this as the negotiations progress.
But for now, I leave you with the words of President Dabwido of Nauru, echoing the world’s best scientists:
Our collective goals will be impossible to achieve unless we come to see that our own health and prosperity is closely connected to that of our neighbors.